The pivotal film from one of what was then the Soviet Union’s most intriguing directors, Sergei Parajanov’s 1969 production The Colour of Pomegranates is a remarkable piece of cinema. Ostensibly based around the life of Armenian national poet Sayat Nova, the film disregards the tedium of reality and standard narrative structure, and instead is essentially a plotless celebration of Armenian culture – a subversive idea in the USSR at that time.
It’s beautifully filmed, the sharp, clear visuals being drowned in a wealth of striking colours and surreal imagery. Parajanov was clearly not interested in reconstructing the blandness of the everyday world in this film, and everything is tinged with fantasy. Characters appear with painted faces, fish flop on the sand, gallons of water pour from the pages of books being pressed by huge weights… the overall effect is quite dazzling.
This is unlike any other film you’ll see, and often threatens to overwhelm the viewer with unfamiliar visions and constructs. It’s not so much a story as a collection of small fragments of life, sliced up and served together in a stunning mix of art, colour and traditional music.
Unsurprisingly, the Soviet authorities were less happy than the critics with Parajanov’s subversive, allegorical work, and his career was put on officially hold for five years after this film appeared. Some modern viewers might also find it a bit much – if you are looking for a conventional narrative, you’re in the wrong place. But if you love innovative film-making, or simply want to see a movie that will float over your consciousness rather than batter it senseless, this is highly recommended.
This new blu-ray edition contains two versions of the film – an Armenian version (the ‘director’s cut) and a Russian version. There’s also a new restoration of Parajanov’s short film Kiev Frescoes, plus documentaries and a 114-page book (not included in our review copy), making this an essential package if you love beautiful, poetic cinema.